Refugees fleeing war need empathy and support – Forest Whitaker

People fleeing war deserve “empathy” and support, Hollywood star Forest Whitaker has said, suggesting those making decisions about refugees must understand the difficult situations they have fled.

The Oscar-winner spoke about the need to rehabilitate those traumatised by war such as child soldiers.

His charity, the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, helps those afflicted by war and violence in several countries around the world.

He was in Edinburgh this week to receive a £500,000 donation from the People’s Postcode Lottery for the initiative.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Whitaker said much of his thinking on conflict resolution stemmed from research he did around The Last King Of Scotland.

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Whitaker’s charity is active in a Ugandan refugee camp (Ian West/PA)

His portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin led to him speaking to former child soldiers in the African country.

He noticed they had a “blank stare” and an “emptiness” which reminded him of young men from his own youth.

Whitaker, who grew up in south central Los Angeles, said: “I could see inside of their eyes the same look I saw in gang members when I was a kid.

“So I decided that maybe I’d like to work, to help.”

He said these young people needed to find identities other than being a soldier and his initiative helps them into different careers.

Asked about how Western countries should treat refugees arriving from war zones, he said: “My philosophy is that we need to care for those who are in need.

“The geopolitics, whether or not you should allow people to come in, whether they should work or be allowed back to the community. That’s another question.”

He continued: “I think you need to look at the issue of empathy.

“When you see a little child who’s lost and trying to find a place where he can be safe, or an adult that has no food, no water, trying to figure out how to survive in this circumstance that no-one would want to be in.

“If you put those people making those decisions in a room to look at that – to walk a route those refugees took. And then they still want to say the same thing? Then I feel sad for them.”

Whitaker’s Initiative is active in the Kiryadongo refugee settlement in Uganda, which hosts more than 60,000 people.

Working with youths in the camp, they promote peace and conflict resolution. This has been credited with significantly reducing ethnic violence there.

Whitaker said the programme had seen some “really good results” and the money would help to expand its work.